Edinburgh Book Festival: William McIlvanney, "Scotland's George Orwell"

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William McIlvanney with Chair Jenny Brown
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Jenny Brown, as the founder and first Director of the Edinburgh Book Festival (as it was known before being renamed Edinburgh International Book Festival) seemed to have known William or 'Willie' as she called him, for a very a long time. She described how there was horror in literary circles and at the Edinburgh International Book Festival when it was realised that the McIlvanney books were no longer available. So there was considerable satisfaction in the decision by Canongate to reprint not only the Laidlaw crime novels, but also all his literary novels including the Whitbread Award-winning Docherty and its sequel The Kiln. This news was warmly received by the large audience.

The audience expected McIlvanney to discuss work from his career, but to the regret of many in the audience he started with a political statement in support of Scottish independence and a reading from a pamphlet that he had written on the subject. The reading described the death of his father which was most movingly written, but it was not, in my view, the time or place for attacks on the Labour Party or for his political views to be expressed.

After this Willie McIlvanney's second reading was splendidly funny and captivated the audience with his description of John and Sally about to make love when interrupted by Alec who burst in while John hid in a Wendy House. This was the real vintage McIlvanney and it was a treat to listen to. What a pity that he had not selected another similar piece for his first reading.

When asked by Jenny Brown what he felt like to be considered to be Scotland's George Orwell he said the Orwell would be 'turning in his grave'!